Return to

March 31, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

State blocks Taiwan arms
The State Department is holding up final approval of Taiwan's request for a multibillion-dollar arms package to upgrade Taipei's fleet of aging F-16 jets.

U.S. national security officials close to the issue said the arms package, along with a report to Congress on Taiwan's air power that is more than a year late, is being delayed by senior Obama administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who are seeking to avoid a third rupture in U.S.-China military relations over Taiwan arms sales.

The report's delay is prompting at least one senator to threaten the expected nomination of Mark Lippert, a friend of President Obama, to be the new assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs. Lawmakers want the report, which the administration has linked to the F-16 upgrade deal, before allowing Mr. Lippert to take the strategic Pentagon Asia policy slot.

One administration official said the Taiwan arms and report issues are simply one of "timing" and that the lengthy delay in formally approving the F-16 upgrade package, worth an estimated $4 billion, forced arms sales officials to go back and re-price elements of it, causing further delay.

The official said the air-power study, required under the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, is being held up along with the F-16 upgrade package because "you don't won't to present a problem without a solution," referring to what the Pentagon has said is a rapidly shifting balance of air power in China's favor.

China's government twice in the past cut off military relations with the Pentagon over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, most recently in January 2010 over a $6 billion arms sale.

The Obama administration and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have made improving military relations with China a key element of its military diplomacy. China's leaders, according to defense officials, have exploited that desire by trying to hold military exchanges hostage and forcing an end of arms sales to the island Beijing regards as its unconquered territory.

Asked about the delay, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said "no decisions on foreign military sales, including anything related to F-16s, have been made."

"Ever since the Taiwan Relations Act was passed, the entire interagency has been and continues to be involved in the ongoing process to evaluate Taiwan's defense needs, which informs the [U.S. government's] decisions on foreign military sales to Taiwan," he said.

Mr. Toner said it is inaccurate to say that State is delaying release of the Taiwan Air Defense study because it is a product of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon already signed off on the F-16 upgrade deal last year and agreed to put off an announcement until after the summit meeting that month between Mr. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The arms package includes offers of new electronics, engines and missiles for the island nation's arsenal of 145 U.S.-made F-16 jets.

Chinese crackdown
Samantha Power, the White House National Security Council staff director for multilateral engagement, said this week that the Obama administration is stepping up diplomatic efforts against China over its major crackdown on dissidents.

Asked to comment on U.S.-China relations after a speech Monday at Columbia University in New York, Ms. Power quipped: "Should I leave now?"

She then went on to say the administration sought to use the recent summit meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao to press China to improve its human rights record, by "using the fact of the summit to draw greater attention to the plight of political dissidents and ordinary Chinese who are unjustly incarcerated."

There are no plans to cut off dialogues on security or economic issues to protest the crackdown, she said.

"I think what we've seen in the last few weeks is very, very disturbing," Ms. Power said. "An already grim human rights situation has deteriorated as the Chinese government appears to be fearful of the Arab spring spreading."

"So we're stepping up our diplomacy on human rights grounds and maintaining the security and economic and the other dialogues that are also critical for our national interests," she said.

The comments followed an hourlong speech by Ms. Power that included how the Obama administration decided to use military force in Libya after diplomatic and other efforts could not stop attacks on civilians by Col. Moammar Gadhafi's military.

"We obviously have a long way to go in the cause of human rights promotion and protection," Ms. Power said during the speech. "But the president, Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton and the rest of his Cabinet, I think, have charted a course that we are confident will over time help bend the famous arch of history toward justice."

China's communist government arrested dozens of prominent dissidents in recent weeks in an effort to stem what is being called a "Jasmine Revolution" by pro-democracy advocates seeking to replicate the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.

Guantanamo terrorist probe
The chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee recently directed the panel's investigations subcommittee to conduct a major probe of detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Chairman Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, and ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, stated in a March 16 letter that they were concerned over detainee-handling policies.

"Detention policies are shaped by two central objectives: ensuring terrorists who may return to threaten our security are not released and those who remain at Guantanamo Bay are afforded a process that is both fair and considered credible by the international community," they wrote to the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

They called for an "in-depth, long-term, bipartisan" probe of detainee affairs, including Pentagon documents and records. The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Robert J. Wittman, Virginia Republican, should produce a report on the issue by Nov. 30.

Mr. Wittman said through a spokesman that he visited the prison in February and "identified numerous issues" that will be examined during hearings before his subcommittee.

"The primary focus of the evaluation is a retrospective look at recidivism and the impact on the battlefield," he said.

A report made public in December by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that nearly 1-in-4 Guantanamo terrorists who were released resumed terror activities against the United States.

Patch warfare
A non-politically-correct uniform patch is circulating among Navy aviators in an underground military protest.

The patch is not being worn. But it is being passed around digitally, especially on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, whose commander, Capt. Owen Honors, was fired for producing raunchy videos he said were designed to boost morale.

The patch shows a coffin holding a carrier jet's landing tailhook with the inscription: "1911-2011: It was a good ride." The decidedly unofficial patch says, "No cursing. No call signs. No tradition."

Jon Ault, a retired Navy fighter pilot, told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough the patch is not just a protest against the firing of Capt. Honors.

He said it shows general dislike for political correctness taking over mixed-sex ready rooms. He said aviators have to watch everything they say for fear of facing a sexual-harassment complaint.

"They won't wear this patch openly because they know the PC Nazis are gunning for them," Mr. Ault said. "But you can bet your bumpas that this patch is circulating virally through the ready rooms of our carriers and hangars around the world."

Return to